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More online check-in

British Airways has stolen a march on many of its competitors by extending its online check-in service to families. At present, only adult passengers may use the facility. But from 25 July - just after the start of the main school summer holidays - passengers travelling with children and infants will be able to log on to and check in for their flight 24 hours before departure.

Crucially, this includes the option of making seat selections for groups of up to six travellers, which should help to eliminate the stress and uncertainty of knowing whether the family will be able to sit together.

On arrival at the airport, the family's luggage is handed over at the "Fast Bag Drop", though some travellers complain that this counter is rarely as rapid as the name suggests. The passengers then go straight to the security queue.

"We want them to start their journey the way they mean to go on - by being as relaxed as possible," says BA's Jayne O'Brien. A survey by the Dutch airline KLM this week found that the queues most disliked by the public are those at airport check-in.

In addition to dodging the lines, passengers who log on shortly after the online check-in commences should be confident of getting seats together. This is a service for which several other airlines charge extra, but which BA is offering free to its passengers.

The facility applies equally to flights operated by BA Connect (the airline's regional carrier) and GB Airways, which operates mainly Mediterranean services from Gatwick and Manchester on behalf of BA.

The new service does not apply to three per cent of the airline's network, particularly on some flights inbound to the UK. Difficulties with system compatibility means that you cannot check in online for flights from Dar Es Salaam, Varna, Belgrade, Tripoli, Pristina, Dubrovnik, St Petersburg, Bari or Cagliari to London. In addition, online check-in is not available for children travelling as unaccompanied minors. On an increasing number of BA routes, boarding passes can be printed at home, which means passengers with hand luggage only can go straight to the departure gate.

This week, Monarch Scheduled became the latest low-cost airline to offer online check-in - starting with Manchester, but spreading to Birmingham, Luton and Gatwick over the next few weeks. The facility is open only to passengers who have paid £5 to pre-select their seats - at present 30 per cent of customers.

Its rival, easyJet, offers "night-before" check-in at Gatwick for anyone travelling before 8.30am; the desk opens at 8pm each evening. But easyJet, like many of its counterparts, does not use assigned seating. The usual policy for no-frills airlines is to allow families travelling with young children to board before all other passengers.